Cover image for The middle mind : why Americans don't think for themselves
The middle mind : why Americans don't think for themselves
White, Curtis, 1951-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
[San Francisco] : HarperSanFrancisco, [2003]

Physical Description:
205 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HN59.2 .W515 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HN59.2 .W515 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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What do George W. Bush, the Ivory Tower, Steven Spielberg, and Terri Gross have in common? Does a political scandal make for good news copy? Does network programming allow us to unwind from a day's work? Does the art at the local museum make for pleasant cocktail conversation?

An unflinching and wry look at the dumbing down of the American imagination.

In this groundbreaking and incisive exploration, acclaimed social critic Curtis White describes an all-encompassing and little-noticed force taking over our culture and our lives. White calls this force the Middle Mind -- the current failure of the American imagination in the media, politics, education, art, technology, and religion.

The Middle Mind is pragmatic, plainspoken, populist, contemptuous of the right's narrowness, and incredulous before the left's convolutions. It wants to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and has bought an SUV with the intent of visiting it. It even understands in some indistinct way how that very SUV spells the Arctic's doom.

The Middle Mind is not about left or right, highbrow or lowbrow, academia or pop culture; in fact, it pervades society without discrimination. The danger is not in a specific point of view, but rather in how the Middle Mind thrives in the common ground of unquestioned mediocrity. All we seem to ask about the culture we experience is whether it's entertaining.

White argues that we have forgotten how to read, to watch, to think for ourselves. Because it is neutral, widespread, and easily digestible, the Middle Mind has lulled the American imagination to sleep. As we sit comfortably amused and distracted, just outside the door there is an immediate crisis of a nation blindly following the path of least resistance. Irreverent, provocative, and far-reaching, White presents a clear vision of this dangerous mindset that threatens America's intellectual and cultural freedoms, concluding with an imperative to reawaken and unleash the once powerful American imagination.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In March 2002 Harper's ran White's controversial essay attacking Fresh Air radio host Terry Gross (a "schlock jock"). The article sparked outrage at the author's choice of sacred cow to savage. White (Memories of My Father Watching TV) fleshes out that piece into a book-length attack on the pseudo-intellectual tendencies of mainstream America. "The middle mind" describes the large segment of folks who claim to be interested in art and ideas, but who would never permit those influences to budge their complacent assumptions about postindustrial life. White investigates the role of the middle mind in the arenas of "entertainment, intellectual orthodoxy, and political ideology." The middle mind "offers us an art and a cultural commentary that is really just more commercial product." White's writing is undisciplined, frightfully (and unabashedly) elitist, self-satisfied, jokey yet rather entertaining. He is given to outlandish, often unsubstantiated claims about the terrors of modern life; he fares far better when concentrating on a specific text, whether it be Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan or Radiohead's album Kid A. White finds the rise in aesthetic and cultural interest on the part of ordinary people over the last few decades disagreeable, which will disturb some readers. One thing can be said for White, however: there's no arguing with his sincerity. (Sept.) Forecast: This kind of book might ruffle enough feathers to become much-discussed among the chattering classes. The question is whether it is good enough to sustain extended scrutiny. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

According to White (English, Illinois State Univ.; Memories of My Father Watching TV), failure of imagination has led Americans to accept mediocrity in the arts, education, media, and politics. He calls this failure the "middle mind" and further argues that in its efforts to negotiate the culture wars, it has nearly eliminated creativity from American life. In five chapters expanded from his controversial March 2002 essay in Harper's, White explores the middle mind in detail, from Charlie Rose and The Accidental Buddhist to Dinesh D'Souza and George W. Bush. Wherever poverty of imagination represses creativity, White is there to point an often savagely funny finger, accusing both the Left ("cultural studies") and the Right (the "traditional canon") with equal vigor and gleefully biting the academic hand that feeds him. For every suspect, however, White offers heroes like Wallace Stevens, Theodore Adorno, Jacques Derrida, Radiohead, and David Lynch. He also offers cautious hope, amid impassioned exhortations to "think change." Despite a relaxed style, this original title is a serious effort (supported by meticulous research) to understand a serious problem and should find a prominent place in every American library.-M.C. Duhig, Carnegie Lib. of Pittsburgh (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Foreword: First a Brain Washp. v
Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1 The Middle Mindp. 25
Chapter 2 Such an Awesome Site of Resistancep. 61
Chapter 3 The Great American Disaster Machinep. 90
Chapter 4 The Highway of Despair Leads to a World in Lovep. 147
Chapter 5 Notes Toward the Next American Sublimep. 187
Bibliographyp. 203
Acknowledgmentsp. 207
About the Authorp. 209